Are Audi and Johnnie Walker Movie Tie-Ins Breaking Brand Promises?

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Stan Lee Audi

Hollywood’s tentpole movie season kicks off today with Disney’s massively hyped Avengers: Age of Ultron from its Marvel Entertainment unit opening tonight, and some brand managers—blinded by the bright lights—are apparently forgetting what a brand promise means.

In one, Audi teams with Stan Lee, a comic book legend as the father of the Marvel Universe and the writer behind The Incredible Hulk, Captain America and Iron Man. In the other, Johnnie Walker behaves like a not-yet-of-age teenager in its “Johnny for Johnnie” tie-in with the upcoming Entourage movie’s Johnny Drama character played by Kevin Dillon.

In two short online extras for digital marketing that aim to compliment their on-screen product placements, Audi and Johnnie Walker renege on their respective brand promises:

  • A brand promise is the unspoken agreement between a brand and the consumer.
  • A brand promise is the consumer’s expectation and the brand’s delivery on that expectation.
  • And, most importantly, a brand promise is a promise that’s always kept.

Take the Audi brand: a sophisticate, a cad, a rake with maybe a little too much money and the appreciation for life’s finer things. So it makes sense that Audi is Tony “Ironman” Stark’s car in the franchise.

As part of its on-screen brand cameo Ultron, Audi came up with a way to pay homage to Lee (who has another cameo in the movie) with a tongue-in-cheek two-minute short film. The Kevin Smith-directed Stan Lee Cameo School also features Tara Reid and TV Hulk Lou Ferrigno. And, well, it comes off as over-the-top and silly, even though Smith—a comic book aficionado—clearly has affection for Lee, who doesn’t take himself too seriously.

Johnnie Walker, meanwhile, holds its head high as a centuries-old brand that has “defined the whiskey world.” It’s an upper-crust Brit, not a Los Angeles chav. It’s a coat-and-tails, not an iridescent polyester tracksuit, kind of brand. It’s a cohiba for smoking cigars, not in da club and on da dancefloor with Drama, Vince, Turtle and E.

Johnnie Walker knows this. Not long ago, the brand partnered with classy spokeswoman and Mad Men star Christina Hendricks. In her Johnnie Walker Red Label ad, Hendricks describes the brand as “classic” and “bold.”

Indeed, what could be at the opposite end of the spectrum from Mad Men? That would have to be Entourage. And what would Don Draper say about these brands making mockeries of themselves?

If brands are going to go this route, they need to do it whole hog. Think about 1986 and Joe Isuzu. (And then think about what you think about when you think about the Isuzu brand.)

Neither of these videos would happen without Hollywood and the millions of dollars being spent on cross-marketing around blockbuster movies, and show both brands having a little off-screen fun at their own expense. But in cutting loose with their digital branded entertainment web videos, are they cutting loose the core of their brands’ DNA?

Not to say that Johnnie Walker and Audi are bedazzled by the lure of celebrity and product placement promises, but they are trying to have their brand promises and eat them too. And they’re by no means the only brands willing to dilute a brand promise in exchange for a few exciting moments rubbing shoulders with Hollywood, on or off the big screen.


Abe Sauer covers branded entertainment and product placement.

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